Sunday, July 30, 2006

Just what you'd expect...

It's just what you expect in a Robotic Nation -- the economy is growing vigorously, but very few people (outside the wealthiest) are seeing any benefit from that growth. Reports this week confirm that the process is even affecting people with college degrees:

College-grad wages stuck in a slump

From the article:As robots move into the economy, we will see more and more of this trend. For details see:

Friday, July 28, 2006

Three interesting ways to fly

The first is a tiny one-person helicopter. It is interesting because: a) It has co-axial counter-rotating blades, b) it has four engines, and c) It is so small (only weighs 155 pounds). You can find a short video here:

Gen H-4 video

You can find photos and specs, including a photo-essay on how to build one, here:

Gen H-4 site

Then there is the Manta Ray kite thing that you tow behind your boat. This got a lot of press lately because dozens of people got hurt using it in the U.S. and it was essentially banned. But it still looks like fun:

Manta Ray video

Then there were these personal helium balloons that I saw in NY city:

Snapple helium balloons

Each balloon is about 20 feet in diameter. You strap in with a harness and you could go as high as the tether would let you.

Still no personal flying cars a la the Jettsons, unfortunately. But air taxis are getting a lot closer:

Eclipse Light Jet OK'd

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Who killed the electric car?

Who killed the electric car?

A documentary discussing the death of the Saturn EV-1. "A quietly shocking indictment of our gas-guzzling auto companies and the petro-politicians who love them."

4GB Flash drives for Vista

Windows Vista is going to add a new level of caching to the operating system. You can install a small Flash drive in your machine to boost the performance of the hard disk. This article has a quick description:

Samsung to release 4GB flash drive for Vista

Here's a quick vocabulary lesson:

SuperFetch, ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive: some new feature names for you

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Creating the ultimate electric car

There was a lot of coverage this week on the Tesla Roadster. Articles like this one are typical:

Electric car a shocker in speed (and sticker price)

This car is funded with $60 million raised from Silicon Valley bigwigs like Larry Page and Sergey Brin along with executives from eBay and PayPal.

The car is both impressive and useless: Impressive because it goes from zero to 60 in 4 seconds and has a 200 mile range; Useless because it costs $100K.

Wouldn't it be interesting if, instead of a $100K sports car, what we were developing were a real, useful electric car that would solve a big problem for America? Some of the features of this car would be:That third feature is essential, because it would allow the same sort of rapid advancement and commodity pricing that we see in the PC marketplace. Imagine being able to buy the car's body from one place, the motor from another, the batteries and controller from a third, and then bolt them all together to create a car that works. Hundreds of manufacturers could participate in an open marketplace and the price of cars would fall dramatically. We would also see rapid advancement. If someone developed a fuel cell to replace the battery pack, then people could switch over to it easily without having to buy a new car.

As an unexpected side-benefit, Dell could start selling cars. Maybe that would help its stock price.

This would be a great way to invest $60 million. Why didn't they go this route?

Myspace power failure

There is a note on MySpace that says:

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Creating a MySpace page

A bunch of people have told me that I need to experiment with MySpace so that I can understand what all the buzz is about. Obviously I am not an "early adopter" of MySpace technology... but as MySpace approaches 100,000,000 accounts and overtakes Yahoo in terms of traffic, I have finally created a page on MySpace:

I still have lots to learn about making it look good, and there are things I would like to add, but it is a basic, reasonable attempt at a MySpace page.

The "lots to learn" thing is something that I find interesting about MySpace. If you want to create any kind of custom "look", add images, change fonts, etc. you are immediately plunged into the world of HTML style sheets and HTML tags. I had asked a friend of mine how I should make my page "look", and being a funny guy he sent me these two pages as "samples" and said, "make yours look like one of these!":Ignoring the content of those pages, the problem is that it would take hours, possibly days, to recreate them. There is a lot of work that goes into creating pages like these.

Then you get to the friend problem. Obviously, after creating the page, one of the things I would like to do is connect to my friends... Isn't that what MySpace is all about? The problem is that, as best I can tell, none of my friends have ever gone to myspace. Clearly there is a very strong age filter that applies to people who visit this site. Or perhaps it is an "HTML filter?" -- younger people know HTML and so they find MySpace easy, but older people don't? All I can say is that I searched for about 50 people I know using the MySpace friend finder tool, and not one of them had pages that I could link to. It really is fascinating that MySpace can have so much penetration and traffic in some segments of the audience, and so little penetration in other segments. Someone will have to come along and create the site that appeals to "everyone".

I'm still new at this, so if you have any advice please send it to me or leave it in the comments.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Teaching a kid to program

David (age 8) is interested in robots. That interest scored him a Lego Mindstorms robot kit for Christmas one year. Once he built a robot, he had to "program" it. That made him aware of programming. Then he wanted to learn more about programming.

If you have a kid who would like to learn to program, one simple place to start is this page:

Botz puzzles

You have to register, but otherwise the site is free. You can learn some simple programming concepts here.

But if you want to teach/learn about "real" programming, you end up with an interesting question -- which language to use? Should it be C? C++? Java? Python? It is a hard choice because there are cost issues, learning curve issues, palatability issues, etc. After doing some research, this is the language that David and I have been using:

Kids programming language

Here are some of its advantages: it is free, it is easy to download, it comes with a ton of example code, and you can do "real" stuff with a (relatively) small amount of code. Also, many of the examples are games, which David really enjoys, and letting him load/compile/run games was an easy way to get him interested in the KPL package. And it works. We have had no problems with it.

The first thing we did was to take sample programs and try modifying them in very simple ways. For example, we took the "maze" program and we changed the width and color of the lines in the maze. Really simple stuff like that.

Next we tried a very simple program - draw a single line on the screen. It takes 3 or 4 lines of code to do that, and you can easily figure out what the lines of code need to be by looking at examples.

Next he drew a triangle. That taught him about coordinates. Then he drew 5 triangles side by side using a loop. That taught him about loops. Then we used a method to draw the triangle, to learn about methods.

Next we drew a simple 3x3 grid. Then we colored the squares on the grid (like a checkerboard). Now we are using loops to do it so we can draw an actual checkerboard.

Overall, it has been a lot of fun doing this. I would say that age 7 or 8 is a good starting age. Your kid needs to be able to read and write, and knowing how to multiply seems to be almost essential. If you want to go younger than that, you probably could because the language has some Logo-like turtle commands like MoveTo and Pen. But we used the Botz puzzles mentioned above to move through that stage.

There are two things that I have found interesting in watching David. First, he seems to have a real interest in it. There is something he enjoys about "telling the computer what to do." Even changing simple things like line color and width is impressive to him. We wrote a text program to create multiplication tables and that was exciting to him. Second, once he learns a concept, he seems to be able to extend it. So, if you teach him how to draw a line, he can then "see" what he needs to do to draw a triangle or a grid without much prompting. Each new thing we learn to do requires a little research on my part -- he is not at the point where he can look through a 300-line example program to learn how to do something (for example, how to load/paint/move sprites). But I can help him with that, and then he can apply the concept himself. It has been a lot of fun so far.

If you know of other resources for teaching children to program, I would love to hear about them. Thanks.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Nice online whiteboard

It's free and easy to use with friends...


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Predicting the future in Manna

It is not clear to me which is more interesting in this article:
  1. The fact that "Hyperactive Bob" has been invented and is being deployed in a fast food restaurant

  2. The fact that this technology was predicted in the book Manna

  3. The fact that this article puts connects "Hyperactive Bob" and Manna together.
In any case, thanks very much to for this article:

Hyperactive Bob Fast Food Management Robot.

If you would like to read more about where the "Hyperactive Bob" technology will lead us, read Manna.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Can safe

Can Safe, Barbasol Shaving Cream

I know they appeared in Jurrassic Park, and I imagine they have existed forever, but I didn't realize that you could buy them until today.

Converting a normal car to an electric car

If you have ever thought about converting a normal ICE car to an electric vehicle, here is a nice, free introduction to the process:

Electric vehicle conversion

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